Last year around this time, two vehicles fell through the ice on Lake Osakis in one week’s time and a side-by-side driver took an icy plunge into Lake Ida.

Fortunately, there were no serious injuries reported but the incidents should serve as a chilling reminder that lake ice is never 100% safe – especially this winter because of rain, snow and fluctuating temperatures.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, anglers in some parts of Minnesota have been venturing onto the ice for several weeks, while water remains open in other parts of the state. The unsafe conditions prompted the DNR to stress the importance of checking ice thickness with a spud bar, auger or other device before stepping out onto it. Do not rely on other people’s footprints, tracks or social media posts, the DNR warned.

Anglers and others who like to venture out on the ice should stay on shore until there’s at least 4 inches of new, clear ice. A minimum of 5 to 7 inches of ice is necessary to support an all-terrain vehicle or snowmobile, and there should be at least a foot before hauling out a truck or wheelhouse-type fishing shelter. People should check the thickness of the ice regularly, since it can be highly variable even on the same body of water, according to DNR officials.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office posted the thickness of ice in 16 lakes in the area on Dec. 22 and it ranged from just 4 inches to 11 inches. (Measurements were taken from 25 and 50 yards from the public access, not for the entire lake.)

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“The week between Christmas and New Year’s is typically the kickoff of the ‘wheelhouse season,’ and we anticipate it’ll be the same this year, especially in the northern part of the state,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR Enforcement Division director. “Whether you’re walking onto the ice or hauling out a shelter you’ll sleep in, checking the ice thickness regularly is absolutely vital and one of the easiest ways to ensure tragedy doesn’t strike before you arrive at your fishing spot.”

Each year, unexpected falls through thin ice lead to serious injury or death. Wearing a life jacket is the best way to avert tragedy should someone fall through the ice, since the initial shock of falling into cold water can incapacitate even strong swimmers. A good set of ice picks will help a person get out, and a cell phone, whistle or other communications device makes it more likely they’ll be able to call for help.

The DNR provides these general ice safety guidelines:

  • Always wear a life jacket or float coat on the ice (except when in a vehicle).

  • Carry ice picks, rope, an ice chisel and tape measure.

  • Check ice thickness at regular intervals; conditions can change quickly.

  • Bring a cell phone or personal locator beacon.

  • Don’t go out alone; let someone know about trip plans and expected return time.

  • Before heading out, inquire about conditions and known hazards with local experts.

The minimum ice thickness guidelines for new, clear ice are:

  • 4 inches for ice fishing or other activities on foot.

  • 5-7 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle.

  • 8-12 inches for a car or small pickup.

  • 12-15 inches for a medium truck.

  • Double these minimums for white or snow-covered ice.

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